Sure, California is by far the biggest, most populous, richest and most awesome state in the union. But to the national political establishment, embedded like a tick on the East Coast, the Golden State is but a dusty outpost, useful only for extracting campaign donations and padding a meaningless popular vote total.
Few U.S. presidents have done anything in California other than beg for money and get lectured by David Geffen. Which is what made rumors – still unconfirmed – that the Obamas were buying a house in Rancho Mirage, that dusty desert Coachella-adjacent outpost, so delightful.
Of course, Obama would not be the first president to have lived in California.
Here are the five illustrious others:
5. Herbert Hoover
Widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history (certainly in the bottom 10), Herbert Hoover's name became synonymous with the Great Depression, which struck a few months after he took office. He was the first president to have lived in California.
Hoover was born in Iowa but went to Stanford University in its inaugural year of 1891. It was there that he met Lou Henry, who was from Acton, an unincorporated town in Los Angeles County. They would marry in 1899. It was Lou who designed the couple's only permanent residence, a unique structure built on the outskirts of Stanford University. It now serves as the home of Stanford's president.
4. Richard Nixon
The first and only president to have been born in California was Richard Milhous Nixon. You can see the white bungalow he was born in at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, in Orange County. Registered as a historic landmark, the home was built by his father from a mail-order catalog.
Far more famous is La Casa Pacifica, the beachfront mansion in San Clemente that Nixon bought in 1969, shortly after taking office as president. The house served as Nixon's “Western White House,” his home and office away from home, as it were. He replaced the tennis court with a swimming pool, and the Secret Service erected a 1,500-foot wall. According to the L.A. Times: “The buffer shielded Nixon's home while he entertained celebrities and world leaders, and after he resigned his office in 1974, some residents displayed signs telling the former president to 'Hang in There.'”
The Secret Service also closed the beach outside the house, which meant barring surfers from Dana Point, one of the best surfing spots in Southern California. At one point, a group of surfers approached Otis Chandler, the publisher of the L.A. Times and himself an avid surfer, to ask Nixon to reopen the beach. Chandler, a semi-regular guest at the White House, agreed. Nixon said it was impossible but told Chandler he himself could surf there anytime he wanted. According to David Halberstam's wonderful book The Powers That Be:
Otis Chandler accepted that offer and went surfing one afternoon and he was enjoying himself when a young man swam over and began to surf too. Chandler tried to explain to the young man that he had special presidential dispensation, but just then a Coast Guard cutter moved over to pick up the kid; as the young man was being fished out of the water by the Commander-in-Chief's men, Otis Chandler heard him shout angrily, “Fuck Nixon! Fuck Nixon! And fuck you too, mister,” which made him feel that perhaps special surfing rights were not really worth it and he did not surf at the President's pleasure thereafter.
3. Gerald Ford
After Gerald Ford left office in 1977, he and his wife Betty commissioned a 6,316-square-foot, six-bedroom house near the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Both Fords lived in the home until the days they died. Betty even founded the Betty Ford Center, a drug and alcohol treatment facility, down the road from their house. According to The New York Times:
The former president, who died in 2006, spent his time on the green, in the pool or playing gin rummy. The former first lady, whose openness about her alcoholism marked the beginning of a sweeping shift in the public understanding of addiction, was a regular presence at the center until her death in 2011.
The house was sold in 2012 for $1.7 million, after just 11 days on the market. According to Palm Springs Life, the Brady Bunch–esque house is a bit dated:
Considering the people involved, one would expect a grand, historic estate. But the Fords were “down to earth, not ostentatious,” explains Nelda Linsk, who sold the property for an undisclosed sum. She would know: Linsk attended more than one intimate dinner party with the Fords and Firestones…
“The lime grows on you,” Nelda states with assurance when discussing the Fords’ gloriously dated décor. Green drapes, corresponding green floral sofas, and wicker chairs rest under a geometric-patterned cedar wood ceiling. The dining room continues the color scheme with a foliage mural painted on the walls and seats with green cushions and faux bamboo legs. In the Fords’ children’s bedrooms, patterned bedspreads and matching curtains can be described as “groovy.”
2. Ronald Reagan
The Gipper was born in Illinois but lived in the Los Angeles area for much of his adult life, in quite a few different homes. At least two of them were in the Pacific Palisades, according to The Hollywood Reporter – one “a Cape Cod–style house at 1258 Almalfi Drive,” the other “a more private, secluded ranch-style home at 1669 San Onofre Drive”:
It had a swimming pool in the backyard and a kitchen full of gadgets, thanks to Reagan’s job as a celebrity spokesperson for General Electric, which made the home into a showcase, installing ultra-modern appliances. Nancy once recalled that GE “provided us with so many refrigerators, ovens and fancy lights … they had to build a special panel on the side of the house for all the wiring and the switches.”
Alas, most of that home was torn down; the house that took its place sold earlier this year for $33 million.
That wasn't the only Reagan home that sold in 2016. The house in Bel-Air that Reagan and second wife Nancy moved into after he left office in 1989 sold for a mere $15 million to billionaire Jerry Perenchio.
Two other Reagan properties of note: First, there's Rancho del Cielo, aka Sky's Ranch or Heaven's Ranch, a 688-acre yes, ranch, near Santa Barbara. The Reagans bought the ranch in 1974, just as his second term as California governor was coming to an end. It would serve as the couple's vacation home both before and during Reagan's presidency, and it would play host to, at various times, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took the time to pose with the man who called his country the “Evil Empire” wearing a cowboy hat.
Nevertheless, Rancho del Cielo was not known as Reagan's “Western White House.” That distinction went to none other than the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. The hotel was Reagan's preferred West Coast residence – when the hotel added a new 322-room tower on Olympic Boulevard in 1984, President Reagan signed in as the first official guest, and he stayed in its penthouse quite often.
1. Donald Trump
Well, he may not be president yet, but hard as it may be to accept, that day is coming, so we may as well include him here. The Donald owns a golf course in Palos Verdes; when it opened in 2006, he said its price tag was $264 million, which would have made it easily the most expensive golf course in the world. Later, his reps would tell the L.A. County assessor that it was really only worth $10 million. So he was either exaggerating the cost to make himself seem richer, playing down the cost to avoid taxes, or both. Probably both.
Trump once owned a mansion at 806 N. Rodeo Drive, which is now up for sale again. According to the property's listing, the 15,000-square-foot, gleaming white home boasts a pool, an elevator, a spa, regulation-size basketball and tennis courts, and bathrooms with “Azul Bahia granite from Brazil and snow-white Thassos marble from Greece.” It's yours for just $30 million.
He still owns a far more modest home at 809 N. Canon Drive, across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel, which he purchased in 2007 for a cool $7 million. The house could serve as Trump's Western White House, which sure would make driving on the Westside fun. According to The Hollywood Reporter, which interviewed Trump at the house in May:
On short trips to L.A., he reportedly opts for a bungalow at the nearby Beverly Hills Hotel. Were he as president to bunk at his five-bedroom house, security could turn one of Beverly Hills’ busiest corners into a logistical hellscape.
Of course, now that Trump is president, we are all living in a logistical hellscape.